Psychiatric CNS Certification Programs

A Psychiatric Clinical Nurse is also known as a mental health clinical nurse specialist. Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists have advanced degrees and take care of patients who have a mental illness or psychiatric disorders.

What Do Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists Do?

As a more ‘advanced’ nurse, responsibilities are greater than a registered nurse. Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists work directly with their patients and can diagnose mental health and psychiatric illnesses. Depending on where the Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist works, their responsibilities may include prescribing psychotropic meds, as well.

Other job duties of a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist may include research, education, and clinical leadership. They may also provide psychotherapy for mental health patients, under the supervision of a medical doctor or psychiatrist. Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists may be providing mental health care for patients of all ages, or they may choose to specialize.

How To Become a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist

Any type of advanced practice nurse require a master’s degree minimally. Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists are no exception to that rule. Psychiatric CNS will also need graduate degree training in their nursing program with a concentration in mental health.

The degree path towards a specialized Psychiatric CNS must start with a Registered Nurse (RN) degree from either a two or four-year educational institution. They must then pass their state’s National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). A Bachelor’s Degree is required to move forward toward the graduate program. There are, however, bridge programs available to those who received an RN associate’s degree. By entering a bridge program, it will put the RN on track to a master’s degree.

Within the graduate program, the focus is primarily on psychiatric and mental health. Some universities will offer a specialized master’s program while others may have certificates to award to nurses with Masters in Science (MSN). If there is an interest in the education aspect of nursing, then pursuing a doctorate is necessary.

Certifications for Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists

To be eligible for a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist certification, you must have a current and active RN license. You must have a master’s, postgraduate, or doctorate from an accredited adult psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist program. You should already have completed 500 supervised clinical hours as a Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist as part of the educational program.

You must have completed three comprehensive courses: advanced physical and health assessment, advanced pharmacology, and advanced pathophysiology. Also, you must have completed training in a minimum of two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities. After you have met these requirements and can show proof, you are eligible to sit for the Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist certification exam which is through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. You must renew your certification every five years. Continuing education credits are also necessary, but each state has different requirements.

Salary and Job Outlook for Psychiatric CNS reports that the median annual salary for Clinical Nurse Specialists, regardless of specialty, earns an average wage of $82,600. Of course, that number is dependent on geographic location, place of employment, years of experience and other determining factors. Pay ranges between mid-$60k’s to well over six figures annually.

The job outlook for Nurse Practitioners, the closest listing to Clinical Nurse Specialists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, is expected to grow 31% through 2024. This employment growth is much faster than the national average for all other professions, which is around 7%.


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